Southwestern College Debate Students Make History, Participate in Prestigious Tournament

Joaquin Arreola and Khamani Griffin on the Southwestern College Chula Vista campus.
Joaquin Arreola, left, and Khamani Griffin are the first debate students in Southwestern College history to qualify for the National Debate Tournament.

It was literally history in the making when Southwestern College students Joaquin Arreola and Khamani Griffin sent the Southwestern College debate team to this year’s 75th National Debate Tournament. The team of Arreola and Griffin received a second-round bid to the invitation-only tournament and became the first team ever from Southwestern College to qualify. 

Arreola and Griffin represented Southwestern College among schools from throughout the country, including Ivy league and private universities. Southwestern College was one of only two community colleges in the nation invited to the tournament, which rarely sees community colleges qualify. 

The Southwestern College debate team duo competed against some of the best debate students throughout the country and came away with a split four wins and four losses during the tournament, which took place virtually on March 25-29. 

“It was very historic in terms of the effort that we’ve put in and the labor that we’ve put in,” said Griffin. “Community colleges don’t often make it to the National Debate Tournament. They often don’t make it throughout the year to be recognized like this, so this was very significant.”

Joaquin Arreola.

Arreola, a philosophy and communications major, is a familiar face to many at Southwestern College. In addition to being a star debater, he is the vice president of communications for the Associated Student Organization, where he previously served as the senator of communications. He also judges local high school debate tournaments and helps recruit students to Southwestern College’s debate team. All this while tackling 23 units during the spring semester. 

“I really appreciate Southwestern College and everything that they’ve done for me,” said Arreola. “I like to represent Southwestern College to the best of my abilities, especially when we are at the National Debate Tournament. Being a part of the debate team has not only developed my debate skills, but it has developed who I am as a person and my morals and ethics as well.” 

While Griffin may have represented Southwestern College in the National Debate Tournament, he is technically a full-time student at Los Angeles Valley College, where he is studying communications and African American studies. He joined and enrolled in Southwestern College’s debate classes to become part of a team that had gained recognition with its excellence and amazing instructors among the collegiate debate community. 

“A friend of mine had talked about Eric Maag (Southwestern College speech and debate professor) and said that he’s an amazing teacher,” Griffin said. “So I wanted to just take a class to see what that would add to my academics.”

Auditing a class with Maag is what led Griffin to become curious about joining the Southwestern College debate team while staying concurrently enrolled at Los Angeles Valley College. Griffin said that Ryan Wash, new head coach and debate director, and the debate environment he created are what ultimately drew him to enroll in the debate team and classes.

“This aspect of having black faculty members that promote critical discussions about black people, in this case, Ryan, is what drew me to enroll this spring,” Griffin said. 

For many, it’s a new chapter for the Southwestern College debate team. In addition to qualifying for the National Debate Tournament for the first time in history, the team has been receiving accolades and accomplishments all year under the guidance of Wash.

“Qualifying for the National Debate Tournament is a huge feat for our students because they have worked extremely hard in nonideal circumstances to accomplish their competitive goals this year,” Wash said. “We’ve talked all year about the importance of actualizing and demonstrating our passion and determination to achieve those goals. I am so proud of the effort they have given the process so the results can line themselves up. Joaquin and Khamani deserve this.”

Khamani Griffin.

As a Black collegiate debater, Griffin sees the importance that his representation, and Black and Brown representation, have on the national debate circuit. Griffin and Arreola said they are often some of the few students of color in larger debate tournaments. 

“I think it is important for people to learn how to engage with Black people,” Griffin said. “If we don’t strive to put ourselves in the room, it’s a lot harder for individuals to figure out how to communicate with us and engage with individuals of color.”

For Arreola, being part of the debate team at Southwestern College has allowed him to broaden his perspectives and said that he’s felt a direct correlation to how his involvement in the debate program has impacted his academics and everyday life, including developing his communication and speaking skills.

“Debate helps you create yourself in a light that is really powerful,” Arreola said. “There is no boundary between real life and debate. When you do like something like debate, you are competing for your right to be heard. You have power in your words and what you want to say or tell people.”